I always start off the new year the same way; hopeful, ready for big changes and excited for everything new. I put the previous year out of my mind, ready for change and for God to do big work in me. This year, I say, is the year that things will be different. And then, in the week after New Year’s, I’m on the couch watching way too much TV, eating cold pizza. Or a pan of cold enchiladas. I’m moody, frustrated and left wondering why everything feels so much the same.
Why is it that we, as humans, mostly logical beings, think that everything will change just because it is a new year? What is it about this “starting over” business that appeals to us?
After last year, I was ready for a change, in every possible way. I was ready to “feel like a new person.” The ironic thing is, I was expecting this change to happen just because it was a new year. I was expecting my life to magically turn into that person’s life that I craved: one that had a little stress, a little more money, and a lot more direction. I thought, that because I prayed for new, that I would get it immediately. I set myself up to fail, ultimately, because the logic does not work that way. And as a logical human being, with a brain that works well most of the time, I should have expected this. I should have expected to feel frustrated, stressed, worried and angry, because I wasn’t doing anything to change. When I prayed for a new year, I was essentially asking God for what He already had provided me. He gave me 2014, another chance to live another year, but what I meant was make my situation new.
What I meant, though, when I was asking for a new year, was a new me. I was asking for God to magically make me into a person I liked more, one who had a clearer mind and heart, a purpose and a new job. A more patient person, a person who prayed more, a person who was less judgmental. A person who had it easier than I did. I wanted a different cup, a cup less full of hard things, and one full of good, happy, pretty things. New cup, please. I didn’t then, and still don’t think I was asking for anything ridiculous; God can make me a new person, He can give me a new cup, and He can put me in a new season. He is the God of all things, right? The problem with my request, is how I was expecting this magical change to come about.
I was expecting to just wake up one day, feeling new and lovely, and closer to God.
I was expecting, ridiculously, to be a new person simply by God doing His good work in me, without any effort on my own part. Clearly, that was not working. In order for change to come, for healing and a new spirit to work in us, we have to let it and we have to work at it. We have to admit our failings, our faults and be willing to make decisions differently. For honest, lasting change to occur, we have to be willing to put some work in, to try. God cannot change an unwilling heart. My heart was definitely willing, almost pleading to be changed. But because my actions were staying the same, my heart was staying the same.
I recognized that towards the end of January, I felt no different than I had in October of last year. I was still just as stressed, just as frustrated, and used TV and Facebook as means to distract me. I hadn’t read any books, and was mainly just doing things to pass the time. I worked infrequently (not always due to my own preference), ate lots of carbs, and drank lots of diet coke. There were two things, however, that I began to do consistently. I started to write again, mainly blog posts, but also essays and even wrote in my journal a bit. I also began to serve at my church, in the youth group. I wasn’t praying consistently nor reading my Bible daily, but those two things I made sure I was doing. I made a point of always showing up to the church, even when I wasn’t feeling particularly serve-y that night, and I always showed up to the computer. Writing and serving, are the ways in which I speak. They are the two ways in which I am able to express myself well, the activities in which I learn the most about God. I learn through phrases and quotes and books. Through stories and poems and scripture. Writing puts me in touch with who I am, where I am and where I am not. It allows me to be honest, when I am willing, and when I am unwilling, to be fake and then revise it later. It forces me to think, challenge and dig deep into what I am feeling/thinking/doing. Serving, forces me to think of others. It compels me to think of others before myself, to put my schedule and worries aside and focus on Who I am serving, and likewise, who I am there to serve. Both of these acts force me to be present and connected, to focus my time and energy and mind-space on the essay or the student with a story to tell.
In order to do these things well, to serve wholeheartedly and connected and to write honestly, consistently, I’ve had to put some rules in place. I have had to apply for jobs with the stipulation that I cannot work on Wednesday nights, because I serve at my church. I’ve had to put my phone away, to close the internet, and turn off the TV when it comes time to write. I’ve had to read God’s word, read writing books, pray and seek ways to become better at the calling God has placed on my heart; to be a writer who cares about her craft and uses it to honor Him. I have had to intentionally put aside my worry, to have hard conversations about tithing with my husband, and forgive over and over. I’ve had to do these things because they affect the kind of leader I am, the kind of leader I want to be for my group of girls.
I had to change.
I had to put my need for change into action, and I had to let God work through my actions. I had to commit to serving and to be available to serve consistently, no exceptions. I had to make a plan to write every day, and to intentionally put away all my distractions when it came time to write. I had to stop marathon watching Gilmore Girls and Modern Family and start listening to music and writing longer. I had to stop incessantly worrying because it was affecting my health, my writing and my ability to connect well with those around me. I had to make a plan, I had to send the email, the application and the prayer. I had to act, because my wishing and wanting was not getting me anywhere except to the place I had already been.
And the crazy-but-not-really-crazy thing is, not only do I feel better, but I am starting to see glimpses of the person I have been craving to be. The woman, who prays often, is less anxious, is less distracted, more focused, and always listening with God’s voice. The woman who believes in her husband and allows him to take the lead of our marriage and family. The woman who forgives the wrongs done to her.
It is going to take a miracle and a constant, intense, peace from God for me to get through this season, especially this next week. But I will be consistent, I will be available and I will pray, because I need it and He needs to know that I need it. I need the service, the writing and the peace of God. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I will do the things my soul and my spirit and my heart need. I will seek Him, put Him first, and love my people around me.